With Detroit Tigers fans calling for the resignation of Jose Valverde, it appeared that manager Jim Leyland had to do something going into game 2 of the ALCS. In Games 2 and 3 against the New York Yankees, relief pitcher Phil Coke has been called upon to close the game.
With back to back saves for the Tigers and no earned runs given up, Coke has now earned the nickname Coke Zero from fans. Coke’s save in game three followed up a brilliant 8.1 inning gem from Justin Verlander. Coke did manage to put two guys on base prior to getting the save. Both Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano got singles in the ninth inning off of Coke, putting the go ahead run at first base when playoff hero Raul Ibanez came to the play. Prior to Cano’s single, he was battling a postseason slump of 0-29.
Leyland called Coke’s 3-2 curveball pitch to Ibanez the best off-speed pitch he had seen from Coke this year. The pitch was low and caught Ibanez swinging to end the game and leave two runners stranded. The save Tuesday night made Coke only the second Tiger pitcher to have back to back saves in postseason games, matching long time Tiger reliever Todd Jones. In the 2012 postseason, Coke has now pitched 5.1 innings over 6 of the 8 games played by the Tigers. Coke has given up four hits but has given up zero runs.
Coke’s emergence as a closer comes as a bit of a surprise. In the 2012 season, Coke pitched 54 innings in 66 games for the Tigers. Coke posted a 2-3 record with only 1 save. Coke’s main role was as a middle reliever and a left handed batter specialist. Coke blew two save opportunities during the season. In his pitching career, Coke post a 17-20 losing record. Coke has recorded 6 saves, while blowing 10 in the process.
Coke’s dominance against the Yankees this series also doesn’t duplicate his regular season efforts. Coke posted an 11.57 ERA against the New York team during the regular season. Coke only faced Yankees batters for 2.1 innings over the 2012 season, but it appears that batters got the best of him.
The New York Yankees traded away Coke in 2009 to the Tigers as part of a three team deal with the Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks that saw the Yankees also give up Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson to get the Curtis Granderson in return.
Coke posted a 0.61 ERA in the 2008 season in 12 contests and posted a 1-0 record. The 2009 season saw Coke participate in 72 games, posting a 4-3 record. Boke blew five save opportunities during the season. Coke would also participate in 6 games during the 2009 MLB Playoffs that saw the Yankees win the World Series.
Coke will not be available in Game 4. This leads to speculation that Joaquin Benoit or Jose Valverde could go in for relief once starting pitcher Max Scherzer comes out. Scherzer only pitched 5.1 innings in his last playoff outing, as he has been plagued by injuries late in the season. Valverde of course has blown several key games now for the Tigers and could be booed Wednesday night if he takes the field.